Theme: “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘it might have been!’”
Chris Clark played 18 games this season. In his 17th game – on November 28th – he hit some bad ice (although on the Verizon Center surface this year, “some” applies more to the patches of good ice one might have found), injured his groin, and saw his season go up in a spray of snow (he played one more game – nine minutes on January 13th that saw him leave the ice for the last time this season after one shift in the third period of a 6-4 loss to Philadelphia).
It was a waste on a lot of levels. His abbreviated ten-game splits (ok, one split and part of another) suggest he was on his way to a season that would have constituted a step back from his previous two seasons, each of which saw him set personal career highs in goals scored. But the statistics are a bit misleading...
In Clark’s first seven games, he failed to register a single point and was minus-2. This might have been a function of his playing mostly third-line minutes with a struggling Matt Pettinger or a defense-oriented Boyd Gordon. While such a line looked as if it could provide some offensive punch – on paper – at the start of the year, it was not getting the hoped-for results.
On October 24th, Clark was returned to the top line, where he set those personal highs the previous two years. He responded immediately, with two goals on three shots in a 5-3 win against Tampa Bay. That set off a 10-game stretch in which Clark went 5-3-8, +2. He was looking like the Clark of the previous two seasons. But it was in that tenth game in which he skated off – seven minutes into the third period – with the injury that would essentially end his season.
What the season would have looked like if Clark had not been injured is hard to speculate about. The top line of Ovechkin-Nylander-Kozlov on opening night in Atlanta became Ovechkin-Nylander-Clark in late October, then became Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kozlov when Nylander went on the shelf. Would Clark have been a more productive right wing on the top line than Viktor Kozlov? Hard to say. Kozlov didn’t put up extraordinary numbers (they were consistent with his career averages), but is perhaps a more adept puck handler than Clark and a good fit for the games Ovechkin and Backstrom play.
The interesting part now becomes what happens in the fall. Clark has a new contract taking effect in 2008-2009, and he could end up on the right side on any of the top three lines. With Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kozlov, Nylander, and Semin all being of the top-six forward specie; with Sergei Fedorov perhaps returning; and with Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr competing for time on those lines, it is hard – at the moment – to see Clark on either of the top two lines. But we said that last summer, too. And Clark didn’t miss a beat when he was moved to the top line in October…
“What might have been” is what 2007-2008 was for Clark. It was a waste, a product of bad ice and bad luck, and for that, Clark gets…